Alumni Voices : Craig Sklenar
CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR CAREER TRAJECTORY?
After earning a BUPD degree at BSU, I went to Denver to obtain my master’s degrees in Urban Planning and Urban Design. During this time I was hired in 2005 as an intern at the prestigious landscape architecture/urban design firm EDAW where I worked on various projects across the US. In 2007 I took the opportunity to help open a Chicago office, but as a new employee during the economic downturn of 2008, I was laid off. It took six months of searching, but in 2009 I landed a job with the City of Evanston, Ill., as the general planner. The title said it all – I managed applications for new development, helped our affordable housing and economic development departments on various planning efforts and even flexed my urban design muscles with the public works department by redesigning the downtown streetscapes and the installation of small plazas in the western communities.
Budget cuts led to another path, and I was looking for a job again in 2012. This time, my search was broad and varied, and I ended up applying for a job with the City of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, which at the time was one of the fastest growing cities in North America. What I thought was a folly of sorts led to a job offer, an opportunity to grow in my career, more responsibility, and a chance to live in a foreign country. I took the job and in 2013 I moved to Calgary.
The career opportunity resulted in significant growth in my skills, leadership opportunities and professional thought leadership in the city. In 2015, the private sector came calling, and I was offered a chance to join a growing urban design practice at Stantec Consulting, a large design firm headquartered in Canada. Since 2015, I have worked in the Ottawa and now Montreal offices where today I lead the urban design practice for the region as well as lead the global initiative for Transit Oriented Communities where we have established a new approach to planning and design around transit development and community need.
WHAT DOES YOUR CURRENT JOB ENTAIL?
Today while I still lead design strategy and project delivery, my role is broad in scope. I have moved more into business development, obtaining new clients, writing thought leadership pieces, and seeking out new opportunities to build the transit-oriented community practice globally. I currently have projects across the US, New Zealand and here in Canada. Daily I have to navigate project work, proposal writing, business planning and team management.
PLEASE TELL US ABOUT A FAVORITE PROJECT AND WHY IT MAKES YOU PROUD.
Too many to discuss – but if I were to pick one, it is the Currie Barracks Redevelopment in Calgary. While it is not a project that I designed, I was the lead planner assigned while working for the City of Calgary. This site is the largest heritage site in Alberta, and it is a site that anyone from Calgary has a story to tell (their mom worked there, they had a teenage job in the cafeteria, their grandfather served in the war and was stationed there, etc. etc.). This site is in the middle of well-established communities, and the redesign of the last phase sought to triple density, create an urban node that is a transformational opportunity and still retain a large component of open space, heritage buildings and space for a wide variety of housing, retail and jobs.
Naturally change can be scary, and community opposition was high. I dedicated ten months of applicant negotiations, rewriting zoning codes, community meetings, consultations, design changes and internal negotiations with various departments, resulting in an approval by planning commission and council with unanimous support. It even resulted in a letter of praise from the local community association sent to the mayor noting how my leadership and willingness to engage provided them the comfort to recommend approval of the project.
This to me is the role of an urban planner and civil servant; providing a high-quality customer service experience, helping communicate effectively, and facilitating negotiations to achieve outcomes that are consensus driven. I am very proud of this process to date and it is the same approach I use for all projects I manage.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR STUDENTS WHO WANT A CAREER SIMILAR TO YOURS?
Don’t be afraid to leap. I had a couple moments in my career where something interrupted what I thought my career path was. It forced me to think outside of that plan, consider other options, and when opportunity presented itself (like moving to Canada, or working in the public sector), I leapt. It wasn’t always perfect, but I found each leap opened doors I never knew I could have access to.
Today I live in Central Montreal, where I walk to work and consult internationally on the future of our cities with a diverse team working in various languages and cultures. This career and life is far from what Indiana and Ball State might be, but I could not be here if I did not have the right education and the right spirit of adventure. Don’t regret making a decision, even if the decision might not turn out as you thought it would!
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE BALL STATE OR CAP MEMORY TO SHARE?
Field trips. These were moments outside of school, but you’re still learning, and you get some great interaction with your classmates as well as your professors. We might have been a bit mischievous during these trips; but also, we learned a lot about cities, design, history, etc. These were core memory moments at CAP!
Engagement boards for Currie Barracks redevelopment, Calgary, Alberta, Canada 2015. This 10-month planning effort reimaged the redevelopment of a former army base into a dense urban node while protecting heritage buildings and spaces and supporting a planned bus rapid transit line through the community